A software team once told me they spend two hours refreshing their testing regions daily.
I asked if this situation seemed reasonable to them.
“No, it’s a complete waste of time as it keeps us from working on the new features.”
When asked why they did not change this reality, they responded, “Because management won’t let us and only wants us to work on new features.”
What type of problem is this team dealing with?
Most people would focus on the technical problem.
While it’s true they had a technical problem, the first needed to resolve the people problem.
The people problem, in this case, was the assumption team members were holding about the manager’s wishes. And, while the team was making assumptions, so were the managers.
The managers had formed assumptions about why the team was struggling with productivity.
They were all playing the blame game.
Somehow the team and managers had started making assumptions about each other.
The good news is that there’s nothing wrong with either group. After all, we humans are assumption-forming machines.
The challenge was that, at some point, they stopped talking at a level that would have quickly spotted and removed the assumptions.
It’s unlikely any one event brought them to this place, rather a comedy of small things over a while.
The first problem they solved together was changing the trust quality between the two groups. After all, a lack of sufficient trust kept both groups from talking openly about what was happening.
In resolving this problem, the relationship between the teams started to change.
To have this type of conversation, I like to use a coaching technique that has both groups sharing their experience of working together. The team shares what it’s like for them from day-to-day, and the management team does the same.
Through this open dialogue, they raised their collective awareness about their successes, struggles, and desires.
Before long, they reduced the two hours each morning to a handful of minutes.
Truthfully, the team already knew how to improve the situation but never felt empowered to make it happen.
With support from management, the team then went on to improve numerous other constraints that kept them from rising to their full potential.
I hope you’re taking from this story is that they didn’t have a technical problem.
They had a people problem, and when they fixed it, the technical problems were easy to resolve.
Problems will start melting away when you focus on the people problems first.
You’ve got this.